My friend and I were very keen to see this, despite our unfamiliarity with the first installment, which surely would leave us at a loss to understand the complex layers of socio-psychological meaning that underlie the labyrinthine twists and turns of these filmic events, but, lucky for us, this movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the first one. Now, before we begin, I feel it crucial for you to understand the plicate text of the title, which at once implies both that this is the second volume in the Step Up series, and concerns the streets, and simultaneously that the characters in the movie need to step up to the challenges of the street. If you are not mentally prepared by view this movie through such bimodal understanding, I would thank you to just get out now, as this shit is obviously pitched way above your head.
We begin on a subway train. We have a cross-section of society, one of whom reacts with caution as an African-American man threateningly dons a mask. But wait—this guy wants only to express himself. Through dance! You see, the majority of the car is comprised of a street dance crew [cru? Let’s say cru—that’s FRESH!] known as the 410 who perform such GUERILLA stunts and post them to YouTube, where an avid audience eats them up and they gain some sort of perceived social status. Apparently.
Our main character is soon revealed to be Andie, known as D, who goes home to find the event on television, portrayed as a public disruption and major menace that must be quashed. The newscaster truly does speak about the 410 as though they were a deadly terrorist menace. I’d love to see the National Security color-code altered to include the possibility of Sarin gas attack or impromptu dance routine. D is scolded by her adoptive African-American mom, the best friend of her mother who died of cancer when D was 16 [deep-seated family trauma, check]. She threatens to kick D out on the streets, but D throws some shade and heads out to this club called The Streets [Holy shit, that is a THIRD meaning to the title, right there! This is truly akin to Paradise Lost], where she meets and has a dance-off with some guy who I suspect is from the first film, there to provide a shred of continuity / reason for being. Her slammin’ moves are witnessed by a mysterious stranger in a baseball cap and hood. The guy who I suspect is from the first film tells Andie to go audition at some local arts college, where she can study dance, which will supposedly make surra-mom happy and everything delightful.
So D shows up at her audition and who should be there but the mysterious stranger from the night before! Turns out that under that hat and hood he's a total blond hottie with, like, abs until next Thursday. This is Chase. Everyone else on the board are all the requisite snobs who don't understand that hip-hop dancing is basically ON PAR with ballet in terms of skill and about 70 times FRESHER! So one of the particular snobs stops D's hip-hop routine [which was unbelievably horrid, btw], but Chase reminds him that he always says he can mold talent out of anything. This is Chase's brother, Blake. So D is in!
So D is in school, where she receives a lot of attitude from Blake, makes friends with this cute nerd who can secretly cut some moves, and goes to rehearse with the 410 after school, from whom she has hidden the fact that she's in school, because that wouldn't be cool with them. They've decided that they need to take their routines to the next level, which means practicing every afternoon—but now D can't, because she's got school! This is also causing strain on her relationship with the head of the 410, this big African-American dude. Blah, blah, after a few more complications, D gets tossed out of the 410 when they find out she's in this school—despite their repeated proclamations that they're "like a family." So she's all bummed, but then Chase suggests that she start her own cru, and shows her a multi-ethnic rainbow coalition of nerdy, slightly off students who can all bust it when they want to. And they can all use the school's rehearsal room after hours!
So D and her new cru make the ill-advised decision to go to The Streets to survey the scene and the 410 is there, and are truly nasty to her. They challenge the new cru to a dance-off, where they easily humiliate them. You know what? I’m getting sick if giving all this detail and it doesn’t really matter anyway, right? Let’s start speeding this along.
NUMEROUS complications ensue. It would seem that Andie leads a TUMULTUOUS life. After a while, having not seen D go home at all, we’re like “So has she not been home in 2 months? How does her adoptive mother feel about that?” when suddenly she goes home for more drama and further threats of getting exiled to Texas. It look like their dream is going to be quashed—especially after some escalating new/old cru rivalry—but no, they are able to make it to the final dance-off at The Streets. The 410 goes first and is good, then they say that D’s cru cant compete because she isn’t from the streets, she’s from an elite private school. D makes a huge speech about how it doesn’t matter if you’re actually from the streets, it’s all about how you perform.
Let’s pause right there. Okay, the 410 is predominantly black and lower class. Andie’s new cru is multi-ethnic, with Latinos and Asians, led by two very white people, and all of them attending an expensive arts college. So the discussion at the end, although it is not explicitly stated, amounts to whether you need to be black and poor to dance hip-hop, or if you can be a rich white kid and kick it [although it's true, D is not rich]. I imagine this becomes the main issue of the movie because I think it is of primary importance to the movie’s audience. Most of these type of movies are centered around a white main character who learns to incorporate black dance styles into their routines—Save the Last Dance, the first Step Up, Honey—and I suspect that the reason for this is that the filmmakers want the movie to play to the broadest audience, which is going to be white girls in the malls of the heartland. Note how poorly How She Move, widely reported to be one of the better movies in this sub-genre, did at the box office. We can’t know if that was because its main characters are black, but it makes you wonder. So if this movie is trying to appeal to a white audience [and the blacks that will come in anyway], it has to go out of its way to tell the white people that it doesn’t matter that you’re white and rich and from the suburbs—YOU CAN GET DOWN, TOO! YOU’VE got soul! This sentiment is precisely summed up in this film’s tagline: “It’s not when you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”
So after all this, how is it? I wouldn’t say it’s good, but my friend and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The dance is of course impressive—although I hadn’t been aware that whacked-out hand motions had become such a large part of hip-hop dancing—with the best part being the finale, where D’s new cru suddenly improves by 400% and ends the movie with a big finish. I was surprised how involved I got with all the interpersonal drama, despite how cliché it was and how you could write the plot of the entire movie just from seeing the poster. And of course there’s a lot of dancing and fun music and a lively vibe throughout.
When walking out, my friend and I both, quite separately, had the general impression that we are both absolutely out of touch with youth culture. It’s just an alien world, and several times during the movie I had to think that I would have no way of even speaking to these characters. Which then makes one reflect on how one needs to leave New York and how the entire current mindset of the country is that of twenty-year-olds. And then one once more thinks about moving to Maine or Oregon.
If you’re up for this sort of thing, it’ll show you a good time.